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30 posts from June 2011

June 30, 2011

Flan-Flan-Bo-Ban, Banana-Fanna Fo Flan

By Joshilyn Jackson

Tlc flan mothership


When I texted this picture to my fellow Southern scribe Susan Rebecca White, she immediately texted back, “!!!! YOU’RE VISITING THE MOTHER SHIP!”

Indeed I was.

We all have heroes, and (Mary) Flannery O’Connor is one of mine.

In my most recent novel, Backseat Saints,the narrator is a rural Southern Catholic girl, mostly in homage to O’Connor, and she references and even quotes O’Connor as she drives her hell bent, bullet-ridden way toward a bright red kind of redemption.

Rose Mae Lolley did not come by her Flannery love by accident; it’s infectious, and she caught a bad case of it from me.

The curator at the O’Connor house is a guy who rents the topmost floor and who has spent several years now working on a book in which Jehovah gets into cosmic trouble and hires an atheist lawyer to rep him. How oddly, weirdly, wonderfully fitting.

Tlc flan pram

The house actually belonged to a rawwwther well heeled relation of the O’Connor’s. They could not have afforded it on their own.

That same relation also must have bought them this pram, as it is gilt-soaked, and was the Valco Baby Tri Mode of its day. (That particular Valco is called THE CADILLAC OF STROLLERS by...well, mostly the guys who produce it, but you get the point.)

Tlc flan bed

O'onnor slept in this baby cage as an infant; not because she was JUST that savage, but to protect her from mosquitoes bearing deadly fever.

Later, she had pet chickens – always a bird girl, Flannery, even before her famous peacocks. She wanted to sleep with her pets. I get this; I have two to four animals draped all around us in the bed most nights. Alas, her mother refused to let her sleep with the un-potty-trained chickens roaming free.

So Flannery would drag a couple up the stairs and lock them in her former baby bed. They never did potty train, a very young child, she even taught one of them to walk backwards, her earliest claim to fame.

You can see the actual Newsreel footage of Mary Flannery O’Connor and her backwards walking chicken here, complete with that famously billious asshat narrator who seems to have done every possible newsreel---and who emphasizes SO many words he might as well be saying BLAH BLAH BLAHHHHH BLAH.

Tlc flannery home lit crit

This is the best thing I saw there; a childhood book of Flannery’s, with her nascent literary criticism skills being honed on the title page in pencil, signed M.F.O'C. I have to say, The Fairy Babies does NOT look like a very good book.

It was a Southern Gothic girl’s version of a Pilgrimage.

What about you? Who are your heroes, and have you ever gone to stand in a place they once occupied, just to see if the air might taste richer there? Did it? Or was it just a place?

Til Two Years Do Us Part

By Nancy Pickard

"Newlyweds become oldyweds, and oldyweds are the reasons that families work."  ~Author Unknown

 My 14-year marriage notwithstanding, in romantic relationships I was only good for about two years, tops.   So I'm REELY interested in long-running ones.  I poke and prod them--ouch! tickle! Stop that!--to see how they tick, how two people keep themselves awake and paying attention to each other for all those years.  HONEY, ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME?

Two-dogs-running-together-with-a-stick-300x197 Almost all of my closest friends have really really long and solid marriages.  I'm thinking of Karen & David, Sally & Don,  Margaret & Joe, Sue and Newell, Linda and Andy, Judy & Bob, Cathy & Rick, Mary & Phyllis, and John & Frank.  Which means that when I go out with them--and they are all incredibly nice about including me--I'm the only child in the back seat again.  We joke about it.  I call them Mom and Dad, and it's only my advanced age and extreme maturity (hahaha) that keeps me from kicking the backs of their seats and whining, "Are we there yet?"   I see them frequently--or at least the ones in town.  They're so generous, inviting me to dinner, including me in their family stuff.  I'm really grateful to them.  But, I confess, their marriages intrigue the heck out of me and make me wonder what is the matter with me that I could never do it. 

     "A long marriage is two people trying to dance a duet and two solos at the same time."  ~Anne Taylor Fleming

 I think marriage is a talent I wasn't born with and never developed, you know?  It's not that I'm not a thoughtful roommate; I'm pretty sure I am.  I try to be.  And it's not that I'm not affectionate and supportive, and all that.  Why, I'm a regular cheerleader.  But at heart, I'm still an only child, I suspect; I don't get lonely; I'm maybe too self-sufficient; I'm happy on my own.  I'm also a binge kind of gal, not a steady-as-she-goes girl.  I binge on tv series, binge on my writing, binge on gardening, binge on Facebook, binge on Words With Friends. . .practically anything I do.  If I find a novel I love, I'll read three more of them by the same author, and do it over a weekend.  You can see how this might translate into a romantic problem over the long haul, because there could never *be* a long haul!  I'm a short-haul trucker, vroom, vroom.

 More marriages might survive if the partners realized that sometimes the better comes after the worse.  ~Doug Larson

 Another word for my behavior is, of course, "addict," not that there's anything wrong with that.  Fortunately, all of my addictions, currently, are legal.  But compared to most sane people I know, I'm an anomaly, a single yellow jelly bean in a sea of mated orange ones.  Lemon-and-two-oranges-on-a-light-background I realize the demographics of this kind of thing have changed, but you'd never know it from my friends. 

My orange friends are, statistically, going to be healthier, live longer, and be happier than I. I think I'm pretty healthy and happy, but I can certainly see how the continuing love, trust, support of another person could boost a person's immune system, etc., etc.

            Me, I always wanted to murder them by two years and one month into it.

            "You chewed ice cubes one too many times, buddy!"

            Hey, it's me, I know.  But I'm willing to learn, even though I'll never apply it in this life.  But maybe I'll be primed for next time around.  ::wagging puppy tail::

            So, you guys. . .

            A lot of you have been married a long time, right? 

            How'd you do it?  I mean, seriously, how?

            What do you like about going on for so long with another human being?  You may think the answers are obvious, but they aren't for relationship sprinters like me.  You're the marathoners.  I'm merely on the sidelines holding out bottles of water--or champagne--as you come around again on your anniversaries.  "Oh, yay! Here come Margaret and Joe again!"

            I love you long-running types.  I could just hug and smoosh you, because  you're so cute together, and what would I do for a *good* home-cooked meal without you?!

            But, really, how do you DO it?


P.S. Garden update!

Remember this? 

Now, it's this. . .


 Because of you guys, I put in a rose bush and a LOT of lavendar, and I love them.

So thank you!  There will be more to come and more to bloom.



June 29, 2011

Love in the Hardware Aisle

By Nancy Pickard

You, poor things, were supposed to get a guest blogger today, a very very nice guest blogger whom you already like from a previous date you had with her, but she is in the worst kind of deadline hell (there are degrees, yes, there are) so you get me for two days in a row.  Hey, it could be worse, you could get shingles.

 So  we're going to talk about tools.

 No, not the Anthony Weiner kind of tools, or the fact that Anthony Wiener is a tool. 

 We're going to talk about real tools.  Tool tools.  Black and Decker and Dremmel and Sears type tools.

I love them!  Without actually owning any until very very recently.  Like, oh, Monday.

I don't know if you know this, but I'm a girl.  The name Nancy probably gives that away. Not only that, but I am girl of a certain age--AGAIN, the name Nancy gives it away--which means I had to take home ec when I'd a hell of a lot rather have been sawing boards with the boys in Shop.  But those were the days of Girls Shop; Boys DO Shop. This is a familiar story, right? You've heard it before, even here on this very blog.


My tool knowledge is severely, nay, tragically, limited.

But those days are over! This week, Monday to be exact, I bought my first DRILL!  It was a THRILL!

First, before doing such a daring thing, wildly breaking gender roles and such,  I begged for advice on Facebook.  I asked my Friends--if you were buying your first drill,if you were a drill virgin, as it were--which one would you buy? 

 Oh, the deluge of recommendations!  It was gratifying, but stupifying, kwim?

 My head swam. Dutifully,  I went to Lowe's, Home Depot, Sears, and saw all those really expensive drills, and all those millions of choices of drills, and I felt as helpless as if somebody had used one of them to give me a frontal lobotomy.  (Not meaning to make fun of frontal lobotomies!)  I saw that the fabulous drills that had been recommended to me were too much drill for me, and if I owned one I'd look like like somebody who has donned an inflated muscle suit. You'd just know I wasn't for real. Plus, expensive! So I gave up and went home, feeling advice-drowned and decision-impaired  Also, sadly tool-less.  Oh, I did buy a cheap portable power shrub trimmer as a consolation prize, but it's really hard to drive screws into a wall with one of those. 

 But then--hallelujia!--one piece of all of that advice kicked up to the surface and grabbed my chin and demanded, "Pay attention to  ME."  A Facebook friend who lives in this area had suggested  that I drive up to the city of Leavenworth and go to their old hardware store where, she promised me, they would kindly take charge of me. 


Wait, that picture was supposed to illustrate "take charge, " not "CHARGE," but that'll work. . .

All I want to accomplish, really, is to drill holes for bird feeders, planters, and pictures, so we're not talking about building a tri-level house here.  Still, if you've never had the thrillah of the drillah, you need help.

 So. . .yesterday, because I've been driving miles and miles lately, in random directions,  to get my plot lines rolling in my brain, I just happened to point the car north.  I rolled up Highway 7.  It meandered through Lansing.  It reached Leavenworth.  I saw--and gasped at--the Missouri River which is scarily high and downright terrifyingly fast right now.  I toured old Victorian-house neighborhoods, and then I pulled out my iPad and typed into the search window:  "hardware store, Leavenworth, Ks."

When "Gronis Hardware" popped up, I had a feeling it was the one.

 It was.  It is!  I found it, and went inside, as timid as a mouse, hopeful as a hungry mouse.  It had (has) wooden floors!  They creak!  There are rooms of STUFF, kitchen gizmos, shop thingamajigs, it's hardware heaven. Gronis

The nice woman who showed me to the drills, pointed to the exact right one--a B&D reversible, portable, with drill bits included and a re-charger--and then, bless her, she called over another woman who opened the box and showed me exactly how to work it.  A man who works there came over and helped, too, and by the time I left, I felt ready for that tri-level house.  In fact, I thought about stopping and offering my freelance drill expertise to some construction workers I saw on the highway, but hey, I don't work for just anybody.

 What's your relationship with tools?

 Did your daddy teach you how to saw a board?  Or maybe your mom taught you how to hang a planter? Or did you teach yourself like I'm about to do?  And if you've already answered those questions here, before today, how about this one: is there anyone who does not love a hardware store? Or this one: why is nobody named Nancy any more?

And here, TA DA, is my baby drill, at rest. . .

My drill



June 28, 2011

Sounds of Summer

Sounds of Summer

By Kathy Reschini Sweeney

Is there anything better than a summer concert?  Okay, that was more of a rhetorical question.  Let me re-phrase.

We just saw Straight No Chaser at their summer home at Harrah's in Atlantic City, NJ.  We had fantastic seats (3rd row center) because I bought them in January.  If you have never seen Straight No Chaser, you need to make it your business to get there.  They tour at the holidays and it seems like they will be in Atlantic City for at least a month this summer and next summer.  Go check out their website; I am on vacation and I can't do everything, people.

Since I am on vacation (to the extent those of us with our own businesses actually go on vacation) I have some extra time to enjoy one of my favorite things - other than cracking wise with my family - listening to music.  It has been a long time since I've done a music blog so here we go.

There are songs that simply scream: "SUMMER TIME"!  Jimmy Buffet music for example.  Okay, that music also screams "I am SO WASTED".  The Beach Boys - duh.  Earth, Wind and Fire.  Carlos Santana's "Smooth". Seals and Croft "Summer Breeze".  Katy Perry's "California Gurls" and "Fireworks".  

So let's build the ultimate summer song playlist.  My family is helping, and then we're counting on you to add your own.

"Hot Fun in the Summertime" by Sly and the Family Stone

"Hot, Hot, Hot" by Buster Poindexter

"Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves

"Electric Avenue" by Eddy Grant

"Summer Wind" by Frank Sinatra

"Summer in the City" by The Lovin' Spoonful

"Summertime" by Will Smith

"Me and Julio Down By the School Yard" by Paul Simon

"Reelin' in the Years" by Steely Dan

"All I Wanna Do" by Sheryl Crow

"Banana Boat Song" by Harry Belafonte

"Centerfield" by John Fogerty

"Mas Que Nada" by Sergio Mendes

and the show stopper: "Dancing in the Street" by Martha and the Vandellas

Okay, I almost forgot - have to give a shout-out to the fabulous boys of "Straight No Chaser" who do a cover of "Africa" that is simply wonderful.  Here is link to it on YouTube:   

 Your turn, TLC - what song means summer to you?







June 27, 2011

Yes, Virginia, We WERE Actually Working. Mostly.

TLC porn moose



As we type this, we being Karen Abbott, Sara Gruen and Joshilyn Jackson, we are way high up alone in a mountain cabin in North Carolina, waiting for the registered sex offender named Stan who brought our pizza to come back and murder us in our beds. Tlc pizza We didn’t think we would need him to; we were fully expecting to be mauled to death by bears days ago.

 The bears apparently wanted Stan to have a nice night before his eventual consecutive life terms, so they let us be. You can tell a registered sex offender has brought your pizza when he marches in into the house and then stands there for a good ten minutes, flipping casually through an enormous wad of five dollar bills, giving each individual breast in the room the rolling crazy-eye in leering turn, all the while telling in great detail about the time he was a Navy Seal and killed really, no really, just big old boat-loads of people.

Tlc seal Note to Stan: REAL Seals don’t explicate their super-secret missions in gory detail. Further note to Stan: Our pizza was dead cold by the time we gently shepherded Your Craziness out of the house. Last note to Stan: We tipped the crap out of you ANYWAY, in the hopes that you would not kill us, so maybe the whole Seal thing IS kinda working for you, on one level.

After Stan left, we kept looking at each other and repeating his bloodiest lines and saying, “That’s not scary,” in high pitched, terrified voices. Finally we sat down to write this blog entry in the hopes of not thinking about the shining gloss of loon-spittle on his flappitty lips.

Since this is the last thing the three of us can reasonably be expected to write, (Although, in 2/3rds of a brightsiding digression, we should mention Karen has the bed on the main floor. Sara in her basement hidey-hole and Joshilyn, tucked up safe in the loft bed, may well be fine!) we wanted to go ahead and put down for posterity the words that have made it into the lexicon over the course of this writing retreat.

You remember the Lexicon, right? Joshilyn wrote a post about the Lexicon right here on Lipstick Chronicles. It is a list of terms that are shorthand for larger situations/ideas/concepts that come out of your posse’s communal history. The backbloggers shared many of their own posse’s terms ---worth a click for the comments ALONE if you missed that one! Here are our new Lexicon words:

Tlc porn moose backPORN MOOSE --- (Proper Noun) Pictured here from behind and at the top, perched on some of our books. Porn Moose indicates the Holy Grail of tchotchke. Double Porn Moose-osity if it has a practical function. Our Porn Moose, for example, cradled Sara’s usually oft missing glasses against his hopefully uplifted buttocks. She never lost them once. In more general terms, a Porn Moose is a thing YOU WANT SO BADLY AND CAN SEE, but can never have. In some ways, Johnny Depp is a Porn Moose. *ahem* In the specific, he was the thing we most want to steal from our rent-a-cabin.

PROCRASTERBATION ---(noun, verb: to Procrasterbate) The act avoiding writing via any self indulgent activity, including but not limited to: googling high school boyfriends, playing online Mahjong, Trying to decide if that’s actually naked Blake Lively on The Superficial, doing 15 versions of everyone’s natal charts with speculated birth-times after ones parents have helpfully said things like “As I recall, you were born in the evening. Well, evening-ish.”

Tlc yoga

Noga –(Interjection) The non-affirmative answer to an offer to work out. Here it is being used correctly in a sample dialog. Karen and Joshilyn, in hopeful voices: Yoga? Sara: Noga. Noga can also be used to refuse walks, runs, lunges, push-ups, showers, putting on real pants, or any physical exertion greater than that required by reaching for a crisp glass of pinot gris. (Sara: IN MY DEFENCE I DID DO THE DAMN YOGA. Karen and Joshilyn: Once.) Downward Facing Porn Moose – (Noun) Any advanced yoga position that people who might be doing yoga for the first time attempt, not that we’re judging, and then they say very very bad words.

Tlc poker

Gamus Interruptus: (noun) The inability of the three of us to finish any kind of competitive game, ever, including, but not limited to: pool, Texas hold em, trivia, online mahjong. Because the second Karen Abbot or Joshilyn Jackson begin to suspect they might lose, they call the game invalid for some dumbass reason (usually spurious accusations of cheating or chip mixing or card dropping or ball moving or bad winds or hurt feelings or cruel fates or lapses of attention leading to game error or rule adding), and demand that the whole shebang restart while Sara backs away slowly from the table saying in a tiny hopeful, voice, “But games are FUN. Can’t you two set down the knives so maybe we can finish just one game? Of anything? Once?”

Answer: No.

That’s actually a lot of lexicon entrees for a single week, so you know the retreat was fruitful. Sara is arguing for Porn Moosing as a verb/adverb and possibly gerund by shoe horning into every other thing she says, i.e., “Pass the porn moosing salt, please!” but Karen and Joshilyn are not quite convinced it has enough real world practical applications. Tlc cabinRight now it mostly seems to mean to search the internet for an exact Porn Moose replica that WOULD be the trophy for the winner if we ever finished a single damn game.

Addendum: The cabin’s owner KINDLY GIFTED US with Porn Moose; he was awarded first to Sara for coming closest to winning a game. Not that we finished one. But she had the most poker chips when we gave up in despair. Karen and Joshilyn will re-challenge and try to get him back on our next retreat, in August.

June 26, 2011

Something Simple

Victoria Allman has been a yacht chef for 12 years, sailing in Europe, the Caribbean, Nepal, Vietnam, Africa and the South Pacific. "Sea Fare: A Chef’s Journey Across the Ocean" is her first culinary memoir. "SEAsoned: A Chef’s Journey with Her Captain" is a hilarious look at the yacht chef’s first year working for her husband while they cruise from the Bahamas to Italy, France, Greece and Spain. Learn more at www.victoriaallman.com.

    Yacht Shot
Something Simple

By Victoria Allman

I’m a planner. I love to organize and write lists. The problem is, in my life as a chef on a yacht, catering to someone else’s whim, I rarely can predict what will happen at any given moment. Just the other day, my whole lunch plan was thrown overboard.

"It’ll just be us today," the wife told me at breakfast. "We’ll go out to anchor to swim, so let’s have a light lunch."

"Sushi?" I suggested.

"Perfect." She relaxed against the cushion. "Something simple. I just want to nibble today."

I was a slow roller. It would take me awhile to create enough of the tiny little bundles for four people. I checked my watch as I retreated to the galley to rinse and soak sushi rice. It was ten o’clock. That left me enough time to make spicy tuna rolls, salmon sushi and unagi.

I pulled the tuna I had bought fresh from the market that morning out of the fridge and began slicing. I was fifteen minutes into the job when my radio crackled.

"Two guests just pulled up in a Ferrari," Jeff, our first mate, said.

Brooklyn, our chief stew, entered the galley ten minutes later. "Can you add two more to the list for lunch?"

"Certainly." I returned my attention to my fingers that were struggling not to rip the fragile nori sheets while creating tight rolls. In my mind, I added miso soup to my list of things to do to round out the menu.

The radio in the corner sounded again. "The couple from the boat next door just arrived."

Brooklyn looked at me.

I shrugged my shoulders. "What’s two more?" I mentally added a platter of beef tataki to the menu.

Jeff’s voice filled the air again. "The brother and his wife are coming down from the villa." There was a pause. "They’ll be here in ten minutes."

I bit my lip and willed my fingers to curl around the rice at a quicker pace.

The captain was the next voice on the radio. "Deck crew ready to depart."

I felt the boat pull away from the dock. I let out a breath and relaxed a moment. There would be no more guests. I could handle sushi for ten. My knife slid through the soft salmon to make clean lines.

I was about to switch to butchering the eel when more news came over the radio. "There’s a speed boat full of people pulling up alongside."

I was starting to hate the sound of Jeff’s voice. The forward motion of the yacht slowed to allow the additional guest to board.

"There’s quite the crowd gathering," Brooklyn opened two more bottles of wine. "Are you ready for this?"

"Do I have a choice?"

"That must be it." She laughed. "How many more could show up?"

Thirty minutes later we anchored. I stepped outside the galley door to breathe in the hot humid air. I could hear the radio in the distance crackling. I took a final breath and turned to head back inside; a fleeting glance at the world around me was all I had time for.

I reached for the door latch as Jeff sprinted past me.

"Coming through." He squeezed past me.

"What’s going on?" I was alarmed at the haste. Was there an emergency?

"Helicopter is landing in five minutes," he shouted over his shoulder.

I squinted into the distance and saw the bird-like apparition appear. Judging by the distance, I had just enough time to start threading chicken on skewers for the Yakitori I would have to include to feed the growing mob.

I, too, sprinted for the galley, kicking myself for choosing to make the intricate, time-consuming sushi for lunch. I’ve been a chef on yachts for twelve years. I should have known better. A simple lunch for four is NEVER a simple lunch for four.

                                            Spicy Tuna Roll Sushi




Sushi Rice:



2 cups sushi rice



2 1/2 cups cold water

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar



 1 ½ teaspoon sea salt 




Spicy Tuna Mixture:





1 tablespoon mayonnaise


¼ teaspoon wasabi

2 pounds fresh tuna, diced fine

6 sheets toasted nori

1/4 cup white sesame seeds



2 tablespoons black sesame seeds


Place the rice in a strainer. Rinse under cold water until water runs clear.

Drain well and let rest for 30 minutes.

 In a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan, bring rice and water to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low. Cover and cook until water is absorbed and rice is just tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Let stand covered 10 minutes. Transfer rice to large bowl.

Combine vinegar, sugar and salt in small saucepan. Stir over low heat until sugar dissolves. Drizzle mixture over rice. Gently toss rice with vinegar mixture to coat. Keep tossing for 10 minutes to cool rice. Set aside.


Whisk together the mayonnaise and wasabi. Gently stir in tuna to evenly coat the fish.


 Wrap a sushi mat in plastic wrap to keep it clean. Place the mat on the counter with slats running crosswise. Arrange one sheet of nori, shiny side down, on mat, lining up a long edge of sheet with edge of mat nearest you. Using damp fingers, gently press 1/6 of rice onto nori in 1 layer, leaving a 2-inch border on side farthest from you. Press firmly so rice sticks to sheet. Sprinkle with both white and black sesame seeds.

Flip the nori and rice over so that the rice is now the bottom layer. Make a thin line of tuna along the bottom of the nori. Roll tightly, using the sushi mat to guide you. Press as tight as possible so the roll is firm.

Slice the roll with a wet knife into 6 pieces about 1 1/2 inches thick.

Repeat with remaining ingredients.

Makes 6 rolls.




June 25, 2011

Cornelia's Aweigh



By Cornelia Read

So I just finished my first-ever voyage on a boat (not counting ferries or dinghies or floatingish thingies that are inflatable and/or require what the sailor types in my lineage always refer to as "a nice breeze" to locomote). Which was pretty damn cool, I have to tell you.


The trip was an enormo-prezzie to the fam from my mother, in honor of three of her grandkids having graduated from various and sundry schools this month.


Mummie (hey, if you are a parent of the female persuasion and gift your offspring with splendiferous adventures of this magnitude, you deserve the classically haute-Mitfordian pronoun, right?) treated me, my sister, my sister's husband, my eldest girl, my niece, my nephew, and two school pals of niece and nephew to the proceedings, which was damn fine and gobsmackingly generous of her.


Mom does tons of awesome stuff for us all, and I don't know how she comes up with the buckage for it. I think she subsists on cardboard soup and government-cheese fumes in between these stunning bouts of maternal largesse or something. Really.


I have learned many things during my time at sea. Here are some of them: 


1. If you are a woman who has two sons in the Navy, DO NOT let them take you drinking in Pearl Harbor, because you might wake up with a two-foot-tall tattoo of angel wings from your shoulder blades to your waist, even though the last thing you remember is being led into a room with all these weird pictures on the walls and one of your kids saying, "you can do Mom in the other room, me and my brother will stay together." And then waking up with your nightgown stuck to your back, totally hospital-cornered into the guest bed so tightly you can't move.


On the bright side, this woman's sons did this to her because they think she IS a wonderful angel, and she already had a number of tattoos. And it's really pretty (she showed us by pulling down her tanktop straps on the Denali Lodge shuttle bus, and also I saw her getting her formal portrait photo done on the ship). But still.

And hey, could be worse:


Although I think this one might be suitable revenge on the guy who did the angel wings tattoo at one's children's behest, if one were to, say, kidnap him and take him to a rival tattoo parlor, after nuking him with one of those Marlin Perkins Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom tranquilizer darts.


2. Go to the fire drill on the first day. Because you’ll want to know what to do if bad stuff happens. Which it so totally probably won’t, but still. Sometimes it does. And I say this because this is the ship my Grandmother Smith christened in the ‘30s.


3. Bring stretchy pants. Because you will eat the entire side of a house at every meal. With ice cream on it. Probably flambé.


And then a couple of bowls of gravy and some chocolate mousse. And twice your pre-cruise weight in smoked salmon.


4. If you are bringing your own luggage to the departure dock, make sure that the guy you give your stuff to attaches THE TAGS FOR THE ACTUAL CRUISE LINE YOU ARE GOING ON to each of your bags (e.g., if you are going on a Princess Lines cruise, having the guy apply Holland America tags is a really, really bummer idea.


As you may have surmised, I speak here from personal experience.)


5. If you forget suggestion number four, be on a ship that has nice people working on it. Because you will need awesome, awesome people who will make it nice for you even though you are wearing the same clothes for three days (and totally feel like Immigration is going to send you back to fin-de-siecle wherever from Ellis Island--with “Scarlet Fever” chalked on the back of your itchy homespun-tweed shmatte where you can’t even see it--well before the Holland America boat decides to take its sweet time lolling into Juneau.)

The people on our ship made Gavin McLeod and Lauren Tewes


look like rank amateurs. Even though they only played captain and cruise director on TV and stuff (okay, I do admit I kept expecting to find Isaac mixing frothy/frosty day-glo libations in a blender behind the Lido deck bar,



and to run into various bejeweled Gabors in the elevators.


Or at least Paul Lynde or something.)


6. A lot of people end up crashing in Alaska from elsewhere. And their stories are pretty great.


But here is a caveat from a tourbus person about the whole “there are five single men to every single woman here on The Last Frontier” thing:

“Sure, the odds are good. But the goods are odd.”



7. IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP: Do not let your fine-looking teenage daughter go party with the dudes who run the zipline for the rest of the day until the ship embarks after they send her whizzing along cables above the tree canopy for an hour and a half unless you want her to hang out with some guy named "Steve the 'Stache" and discover an entire galaxy of body-piercings neither of you had ever envisioned in your wildest nightmares. Even though she is rock-solid on assuring me that she is not interested in any of them, but she got great pictures of them sent to her by Steve the 'Stache over the last several days. Isn't texting fun?


So even though I worry she might change her mind, which she insists she totally won't, I did love hearing about the slightly exaggerated ruler (with witty disclaimer caption) the aforementioned Steve has reportedly had tattooed on his inner thigh--which had me doing spit-takes of mirth throughout dinner that night, every time I thought of it. Which almost makes up for the whole piercing-galaxy thing.

And, hey, she just got another text from Steve the 'Stache. Who is a mere eleven years older than she is.


8. You totally fucking can’t see so much as a single molecule of Russia from anywhere in the town of Wasilla. Even if you’ve got a westward-facing window seat on the upper level of the Princess train-to-Denali’s dome car.


So there. Neener neener.


Then again, it's a little tough to see the ex-governor in Alaska right now. But they don't have cruises in Arizona.


9. The legal smoking age in Alaska is nineteen, which becomes an important thing to know if you have recently decided on a whim to buy each of the three kids in your traveling party who just graduated from high school his or her very own sixteen-dollar Arturo Fuentes Hemingway Classic from the ship’s cigar bar.


Like, especially if you have just told the bar-server chick who’s kinda-sorta in charge of the place for the evening that your young companions are all eighteen. Whether or not they are actually, uh, seventeen. Allegedly.


Not least if the bar-server-chick-k/s-in-charge-of-the-place-for-the-evening only remembers that the smoking age in Alaska is nineteen after you’ve helped your young companions set fire to said trio of sixteen-dollar cigars.

Though it is rather fine to finish smoking your respective Hemingway Classics on the fantail of the Promenade deck at midnight when it’s the longest day of the year, still totally light out, and you happen to be sailing through a really groovy-looking fjord in Alaska. Just saying.



Especially when you and your three young smoking companions can sing all of the verses of Lonely Island’s “I’m on a Boat” from memory, afterwards.




Complete with lyric-appropriate arm motions.


[DISCLAIMER: My young traveling companions are all really nineteen. I have intimated that they were underage merely for humor purposes. They were slow learners and all held back for a year in grammar school. Cross my heart and pinkie swear. And I didn’t let any of them sample my rocks glass of Scotch, either. Because, let’s face it, a fine single malt is, like youth, wasted on the young.]


10. Pack your sleeping pills, your toothbrush, your deodorant, and a change of undies in your carry-on bag.


Even if you didn’t sleep at all the night before you flew to Vancouver because your writing group is on California time and you are Skyping in from the Upper West Side of Manhattan to hear what they thought of your second draft--which means 8 p.m. for them is 11 p.m. for you, and doesn't leave you a whole lot of sleeping time by the end of the session before you have to get back up again.

Because despite that stuff, all-nighters are no excuse for stupid. Or crappy packing.


11. The long-term parking lots for the Newark Airport are actually located in Western Pennsylvania. So you’ll want to get up at 3:30 and not 4:00. Even if you didn't sign off with your writing group until 1 a.m. And this is especially true if Air Canada’s ground crews are on strike. But I’m pro-labor so it was worth it to leave earlier.


And I also waited for my bags to come out onto the Vancouver conveyor belt thing with a smile on my face for two whole hours. So take that, O douchey ass-hat scab-licking corporate-lackey-shill Governor of Wisconsin.


And cheers to you, my striking Canadian compatriots: Si se puede, eh.

(Sorry about the Bruins kicking your asses, too....


Oh, wait... I’m not sorry at all about that.

And I’m a Sabres fan, eh?




12. Douglas Adams was absolutely correct when he posited that “no one has uttered the phrase ‘as beautiful as an airport.’” Especially when it’s in New Jersey and you’ve been awake for circa forty-eight hours.

(I will spare you an illustration.)

Although he might have reconsidered if he’d been admiring the interior design of the Vancouver Airport for two hours from a bench next to the baggage claim. It’s pretty great.

(But, you know, still an airport. Not, like, a splendid afternoon in the Bois de Boulogne or the view across Florence from Fiesole at dawn or whatever.)


13. Denali (AKA Mount McKinley) is REALLY FUCKING BIG. And I say that having trekked to the base camp on Annapurna.


Trust me, the Himalayas are totally pussified by comparison.

Kind of like Vancouver’s hockey team.




14. I make a habit of dancing once a decade. I recommend doing this on a cruise ship. I just did. It was totally great. Especially when me and my niece's pal dragged my mother out onto the dancefloor for "We Are Family." 

And now I will not dance again until 2021. Phew.


 15. I found out my new $49 iPhone takes video. My old $200 iPhone did not, but it was four years old or something.

Unfortunately, I have not yet figured out how I'm going to post them. So here's a nice lady on a ship waving goodbye, instead:



Tell me about a trip that you loved... And please forgive me if I don't check in very often the day this is posted--ten-hour flight back to the East Coast, and spotty internet...


June 24, 2011

The Ghost in the Garden

by Barbara O'Neal

Have you ever lived with a ghost?  I have.  In fact, I’m pretty sure she wanted me to save her house.


My eldest son was in kindergarten when I first saw this house.  It was a narrow, two story brick, with a bay window on the top floor, and deep porch.  It was well over a hundred years old, and looked it—the yard was bare dirt, baked by the southwestern sun to absolute sterility, the paint on the old wood was peeling.  There was a crack in the brick over one window.  It was empty. Abandoned.

But every day, as I passed by with my son’s five-year-old hand in mine, the house caught my eye.  A pair of windows faced east, illuminating a staircase with a beautiful old banister, and spilling sunshine into the open front rooms.  The light was so inviting, so peaceful, that often I would pause on the way back home and peer in the windows to see what else I could see.  That inviting upstairs bedroom with the bay window.  The enormous front windows overlooking the street, arched and ancient, the glass thin and wavery.  One of them had a tiny bb hole in it.  The kitchen was horrific—a single bank of cupboards made of tin, covered with wood-grain contact paper.

It had been condemned for the wiring.

I could not bear it.  I dreamed of the house at night, feverishly imagining the yard filled with flowers, and lace curtains hanging in every window (a genetic Irish trait, I’m afraid).

A relative of my husband told me to “claim it,” tell God that I wanted it, that it was mine and I would take good care of it.  What did I have to lose?  I tried it.  As Ian and I walked by the next month, I claimed it. 

Then, because it never hurts to be practical, I set about tracking down the owner. After a lot of dead ends, I finally found him, an old man in Arizona who just wanted to get rid of it.  He wanted a mere $20,000 for it—which might as well have been $10 million for our small, poor, young family.  He was so eager to sell it, however, that he carried the loan and let us have it for the sweat equity it would require to become livable. 

It was a long haul. For the whole first winter, we lived with an exposed brick wall in the living room and bare pine floors through the house.  I put up with the impractical, horrible kitchen for seven years.  

It was worth it. The terrible, tiny bathroom had a giant window and a claw-foot bathtub.  The bay window looked over treetops and the roofs of other houses.  The dining room had long windows (though no two windows in the house were the same size) where we ate supper every evening and my husband's Sunday breakfasts complete with homemade biscuits.  My boys grew up there. 

The first time I felt the ghost, my white cat Piwacket and I were out in the side yard trying to see if there were any old plants that might be planted there.  It was overgrown with weeds, and Pi leapt on flies and grasshoppers, then suddenly stopped and dashed over to an empty spot in the yard and started winding around somebody’s ankles.   For a minute, I just gaped, but the feeling of approval and benevolence was so powerful that there was no reason to be afraid.

An old woman lived in the house across the alley, Electra McKinney (a name I have saved for the right book, and will use one day) and when I started watering the dry dead dirt of the yard to see what might grow, she leaned over the fence and said with approval. “She had a beautiful garden here once. I hope you can save some of it.”

220695561_1c5e1b951b “She” had died in the house a couple of decades before. I never learned her name. The owner’s mother, it turned out, who had lived there since 1932.  When I watered her yard, the long-dormant plants she had loved began to sprout—ancient roses and Naked Lady lilies and honeysuckle in the backyard, a rose of Sharon and mulberry bushes in the front.  It became a lush background for my nascent gardening skills.  I added more roses and perennials and herbs. I planted baby’s breath and day lilies and a thick lawn beneath the trees in back.  Electra McKinney gave me things from her old garden, too, irises and lamb’s ear and asparagus starts. 

The cats liked playing in the side garden with the ghost.  Sometimes a dog would dance with her in the back yard—perhaps she was throwing ghost sticks for them.  My husband was not as fond of her when she appeared at the side of the bed in the middle of the night.  (He actually made me move the bed to another part of the room and that did the trick.  When we divorced, I moved it back and she 2742500090_7065849782_z

seemed to approve. I slept like a baby between the two long windows.)  As the animals passed away, I buried them where she seemed to like to sit, and I liked imagining that they would be wandering through the yard, too--many friendly presences to keep a gardener company.

I lived in that house for almost twenty years, when my life took a turn and I fell in love with a man in my old home town of Colorado Springs.  I left the ghost and the house to someone else, who did not care as well for it. The yard has gone dry, again, and some unfeeling soul cut the Rose of Sharon down to the ground, though the peach tree still produces.  At night, in my dreams, I sometimes wander through the rooms, and stand at the window of the study where I wrote so many, many words, a window that overlooks the side garden with the ghosts of woman and cats.  We wonder, all of us, who will next save our house.  When a young mother will wander by, and catch sight of the light pouring through the windows, and see the flowers on the peach tree, and wonder if there is something else that could be coaxed to grow in that barren soil...

Have you ever known a ghost?  Do you haunt a place you once lived? 

(I will be checking in from airports today, as it's a travel day for me...but I will check in, promise!)


June 23, 2011

Sleeping with Strangers

Elaine Viets                                                

 "So, do you want to sleep with us?" Doris Ann asked.Red bed

"I have to know some things first," I said. "Do you smoke?"

"Not in the room," she said.

"You should know that I snore."

"So do we," Doris said.

That’s how I wound up sharing a room with a passel of librarians at the American Library Association convention this weekend in New Orleans.

I’ve been lucky with my hotel roommates. Most are considerate, don’t hog the closet space or make noise if they come in after late-night celebrations.

Hospital roommates are another story. I get stuck with deeply devout women. And that brings out the devil in me.

A while back, I was in the hospital after a stroke (I’m fully recovered, thank you). My roommate was an 80-year-old woman addicted to televangelists’ sermons at full volume. I’ll call her Edna, because that’s not her name.

I thought the white-haired Bible-pounders were whitened sepulchers, but Edna watched their rants with rapture.

At dinner, she came down off Cloud 9 and asked me, "Which evangelist is your favorite?"Bible

"Uh – the dead one," I said. I figured that was a safe answer. One of them was always being called home. Not soon enough, thought, after watching them for 12 hours.

"Yes," Edna said, sadly. "His death was a great loss."

Dinner was punishment for my sins. But worse was in store – Edna decided to evangelize me.


"Jesus gave you that stroke," she said, "and you won't recover until you accept that."

It wasn’t right. I had a good husband, a good career, a condo on the water and a black Jaguar. Jesus didn’t get any credit for those. He got the rap for the stroke. I kept silent out of respect for Edna’s age.

Edna persisted. "Are you married?" she asked.

"Yes," I said. "Don and I have been married 37 years."

"Do you have children?" she asked.

"No," I said, cheerfully.

"It's not a real marriage unless you have children," Edna said.

"It's a little too late for kids now," I said.

"No, it’s not," Edna said. "God gave Sarah a child at age 80."

Respect for Edna’s age went out the window. "That's proof God is a man," I said. "No woman would give another woman a baby at age 80."

At least Edna was quiet for the rest of my stay.

Another adventure with a hospital roommate started out well. I shared a room with a large woman Walletectomy who was sleeping of the just when I was admitted early in the morning. While the doctors prepared me for a complete walletectomy, I fell asleep, too.

At 1:30 that afternoon, I was awakened by a woman shouting, "Father God, heal our Sister in Jesus’ name. Heal her legs so she may walk again."

"Yes, sweet Jesus!" Sister shouted.

"Heal her heart," screamed the woman preacher. "Heal her stomach! Heal her kidneys!"

At each request for healing, my neighbor cried again in a loud voice, "Yes, sweet Jesus."

This time, I prayed, too.

I prayed that the preacher woman would not go to any organs lower then Sister's kidneys.

My prayers were answered.


 Saturday, June 25, is  Mystery Day at the American Library Association conferenceNola  in New Orleans. At 10 AM I'm on the "Traditional Mysteries: Who Are the New Jane Marples?" panel with Rhys Bowen, TLC's Nancy Martin, Rosemary Harris and Jane Cleland as moderator.

At 3 PM "Laugh or I'll Kill You" is the topic for Rhys, Rosemary, Nancy M., Cathy Pickens with  moderator Amy Alessio.

From 1 PM to 2 PM I'll be signing copies of my books at the Penguin Group Booth 1422. 





June 22, 2011

The Naming of Pets

Margaret Maron 

Images According to T.S. Eliot in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which formed the basis of the Broadway play Cats,

            “The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,

            It isn’t just one of your holiday games . . .”

Actually, it does become a sort of game, doesn’t it?  In Southern Discomfort, I have a running joke Images-1 about Deborah’s Aunt Zell trying out different names for her new puppy.  After experimenting with Roman emperors (Caesar and Pompey) and TV news anchors (Cronkite and Brinkley), she winds up taking Dwight’s suggestion, Pork Chop, even though she doesn’t know the story behind that suggestion.

Images As a Southerner, I have known several pets with double names: Cubbie Lee was a dog and Gilbert Ann was a squirrel that turned out to be female.  As an adult, I have lived with a dog named Mackindoo and cats named Skimbleshanks, Katisha, and Bitsy Mott.  Giacomino Schwarzekatze was a trilingual Siamese that we acquired at a NATO base in Italy from a German couple.

But before that?


  Lacey female#1-1












Friends of mine are giving their grandson a cute little golden Labradoodle puppy for his sixth birthday.  While he waits for the puppy to reach ten weeks, the child has been trying out different names.  The current favorite is Sunshine, “but I’ll call her Sunny.”

Which has led another friend to observe:  “This is the tough part about letting little kids name their pets—why millions of moms, myself included, have ended up with goldfish named Goldy. (Probably only exceeded by moms with pet bunnies or kittens named Fluffy.)" 

                 Images_2                                              Images_2_2 

"I was nine," she says, "when I got my first all-yours pet, a parakeet. I named it Kennedy. He hadn't been elected yet. I think it must be a good sign for candidates if kids are naming pets after them. At least, I never met a pet named Nixon.”

At six, my first cat was white and came during winter, so of course I named her Snowflake.  Her son was a soft all-over gray and answered to Smokey.  (Not that he actually answered. No cat of ours ever deigned to respond to its name.)

Colors and markings trigger names for most children:  Blackie, Red, Blue, Patches, Spot, Stars. (But in all fairness, must add that I have since learned the child awaiting his puppy picked that name "because there's a song about you are my Sunshine, my only Sunshine.  You make me happy when skies are gray.") 

What about you?  Did you get to choose your pets' names when you were a kid?  Have you become more imaginative as an adult?